Forget the mega malls of yesteryear, or stores dedicated to just one product (how many coats does a person need anyway?), the new hot ticket is the Instagram-friendly concept store: part fashion, part design, all creativity
From must-visit destinations such as the mother of them all, Paris’s glorious Colette (rest in peace, it closed its doors recently after reigning supreme on the fashion scene for two decades – though don’t cry, two former employees have just launched the equally fabulous Nous nearby) to Dover Street Market in London, to Miami’s hip and happening Alchemist or Nannie Inez in Austin, Texas, the concept store is today’s most happening trend.
Enter Sabina Kristensen, the force behind Baku’s very own Emporium, where, as art director, she defined the concept store’s bold and beautiful aesthetic. Now she is launching the Freedom Concept Store, slated to open in November.“I had always dreamed of having my own company, and of naming it Freedom,” Kristensen says. “Freedom is a word that sounds wonderful in every language.”
“My vision, from the beginning, was to create an anti-luxury aesthetic which is something that hasn’t really been done in Baku yet,” she says. “I wanted to stay away from malls and the existing shopping scene that defines Baku.”
As such, the new Freedom Concept Store has been designed in conjunction with renowned Azerbaijani architectural firm Studiya Reflect Architects and Kristensen’s daughter Fatima, a student at the Parsons School of Design in New York, whose alumni include fashion luminaries such as Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford. The space will use locally produced Azerbaijani building materials and have “an industrial theme with a natural and light atmosphere”, according to Kristensen.
The new store will stock fashion, books, beauty products and other eclectic treasures sourced by Kristensen on her travels. “Saloni is one of my new fashion discoveries,” she enthuses. “It’s fresh and feminine and is perfect for any occasion. I’m also crazy about Safiyaa, a brand focused on evening wear. The quality is amazing and the prices aren’t crazy. Perhaps, however, I’m most excited about introducing shoppers here to new names such as Matthew Adams Dolan, which is one of Rihanna’s favourite brands.”
For Kristensen, the timing for her new venture is absolutely right, with Baku positioning itself as a thriving fashion hub. “The fashion scene in Baku is very exciting right now,” she says. “Street style is growing and a lot of cool bloggers are popping up. We’ve been seeing young girls and boys developing a stronger style identity, and I can’t wait to see it evolve further.”
Kristensen is something of a veteran on the fashion circuit. Although she originally studied finance (something which has, no doubt, come in handy in launching her own business), she began her fashion career as a retail buyer in the late 1990s, before rising to art director of the multi-brand concept store Emporium. “Twenty years ago, Azerbaijan’s fashion scene was almost non-existent, yet my brain was always consumed with fashion, and a big dream of mine was to open a store here in Baku.” Her stint at Emporium, then, was defining, and was “a great time in my life,” Kristensen says warmly, “and it definitely helped me realize that fashion, and in particular the idea of a concept store, is something that I love working with. I’m so excited to be starting something new and fresh. Today, there is so much government support for entrepreneurs, and I’ve always wanted to be my own boss – it was finally time to make this store a reality.”
There are many plans afoot for the new Freedom Concept Store – and Kristensen is keenly aware of the changing face of retail as vendors and customers alike flock to try ever newer and more advanced technologies. “We live in an era of instant gratification and I think that’s the reason why online shopping has become such a success – everything is just a click away,” she says. “Customers are in a rush, so whether it’s about trying on clothes virtually, or receiving products in record time, the whole landscape has changed.” Having said that, she adds, not much beats the experience of discovering things in a beautifully curated environment, as the popularity of concept stores attests. And for Kristensen, a diehard fashionista, what was the biggest challenge in bringing the Freedom Concept Store to life? “Mustering all my self-control to save every penny and put it in the bank instead of spending it on fashion so that I could invest in this exciting project,” she smiles. “I’m sure any fashion lover can relate to that!”
A version of this story appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of Baku magazine. Pick up your copy at newsstands to enjoy our quickfire round with Sabina Kristensen on her favourite things and style icons
Portrait by Nathan Vahabova